Mahdi said the Ahmadiyya community has rejected terrorism since its founding. As explained in the brochure, the founder taught the Ahmadi to reject a "jihad by the sword" and replace it with a non-violent "jihad of the pen."
Even as they espouse peace and non-violence, the Ahmadiyya face persecution, in countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The May bombings of two of the community's mosques in Lahore, Pakistan claimed 86 lives. The Pakistani government denied humanitarian assistance to 500 Ahmadiyya families that were victims of the recent devastating flooding, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Most recently, a Philadelphia man was gunned down in mid-August in his native Pakistan, the second Ahmadi killed that week.
Here in the United States, the community faces some hostility from mainstream Muslim sects, according to Mahdi. And the group also faces the larger conflicted view of Islam in America. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, nearly 50 percent of Americans view Islam unfavorably. In addition, 55 percent lack a basic understanding of the religion and half do not personally know anyone who is a Muslim.
The Ahmadi faithful believe it is the responsibility of Muslims to change the negative perceptions of their faith. Dr. Waseem Sayed, a spokesperson for the community, also stressed that following the law of the land is a religious duty.
"We say Islam requires living according to the law of where you live," said Sayed. "In Islam, there is no conflict between 'Are you a Muslim?' and 'Are you an American?'"
What follows is a separation of mosque and state. Without offering comment on where the Park51 community center should be located, Sayed said it is a civic issue.
"This is not about the right of a religious group to build a place of worship," said Sayed. "In Islam, there is a stress on the rights of your neighbor. You have to take into account the thoughts of your neighbors."
Winning people over to an understanding of their faith is what Ahmadiyya community members hope to achieve through their door-to-door campaign. Their plan is to reach 2 percent of the U.S. population every year through the "Muslims for Peace" brochures and interfaith meetings in local communities. A print run of the brochures just delivered another 250,000 copies each in English and Spanish to the group's 70 local chapters.
After Bhatti's experience distributing brochures in Times Square and to his law school classmates and professors, he and his friends are discussing the next location, perhaps at a busy weekend flea market.
"Jihad is not about killing others," said Bhatti, as he echoed the words of his faith's founder. "You have to be able to talk intellectually with everybody and win over their hearts."